By Suzii Paynter
We are a living congregation. Each one of us is a unique expression of the gifts and callings of committed Christians — the lives within each church that provide energy and growth as we form together toward God’s kingdom vision.
Whether reading the Bible, singing God’s praise, caring for children, feeding the hungry, digging for fresh water or tending to the sick and bereaved, each person is tailored just a little more nearly to God’s perfect image. There are no experts in the kingdom of God, but brothers and sisters who are at once both caretakers and caregivers, who share together and are forming together toward a new heaven and earth. Through this process of forming together, God is transforming each heart and mind.
But we are not autonomous congregations alone, “For we are laborers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). The identity statement from the 2012 Task Force Report says of our Fellowship: “We are a community of Baptist Christians and churches walking together and drawn toward the center of our common life in Jesus Christ. We share this fellowship with God, whom we have come to know through Christ. We serve as co-laborers with the Holy Spirit in God’s mission. Within these relationships we freely offer this expression of our identity, not to bind the conscience of any believer or the freedom of any congregation but as an expression of the nature of our fellowship.”
Consider how flocks of birds are able to demonstrate such amazing coordination and alignment, with thousands of independent bodies that move as one, reacting together in nanoseconds to changes in geography, topography, wind currents and potential predators. Scientists have discovered that just three simple rules govern their interaction: maintain a minimum distance from your neighbor; fly at the same speed as your neighbor; and always turn toward the center. All three rules are essential for flocking. When these rules are in place, it is as if all birds collectively see what each other bird sees and respond as each other bird responds.
Taken from the field of complexity science, “emergence” is a term used to describe events in human endeavors which, like flocking, are unpredictable, which seem to result from the interactions between elements and which no single organization or individual can control. The Fellowship is an emergence endeavor.
Although made up of autonomous congregations, we are constantly forming together in responsive mission and ministry. Is it any wonder that the Celtic Christians chose the image of a flying wild goose as the symbol of the Holy Spirit that forms and guides us?
Like soaring birds, as a Fellowship we are flocking toward our center of the Christian way — living and loving in an array of congregational and missional expressions. As we are traveling together on this holy emergence endeavor, we can be responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit; we can fulfill God’s imaginative vision for our community.
Our vision is to be a national and global community bearing witness to the gospel in partnership with Christians across the nation and around the world. Individuals, churches and field personnel throughout the Fellowship are joining together in ministry and missions to advance the work of God’s love. Where does forming together as a soaring flock happen? It happens in 1,800 congregations and in more than 70 places around the world through collective ministries.
We are forming together. Be on the lookout, just a little to your left and just a little to your right, fly together and turn toward Christ, our center.
We will be forming together.
Suzii Paynter is the Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.